CEOs and Brand Identity

Ford, Chrysler, GM… besides all being in sweltering financial distress, all three at some point in the last several years have put their CEO’s on a TV ad campaign. Most recently GM has put their newest CEO, Whitacre, behind the camera .

Let’s just say it didn’t work out for Dr. Z or Bill Ford, both of whom handed over the reigns shortly there after. I’m not suggesting this is a curse in the magnitude of the EA sports cover spot, but potentially a trend.

These companies struggled to identify a message and voice to the consumer so they put their CEOs behind the camera…but what has that really done? I dont know the answer to that question and I don’t know the analytics behind these campaigns, but I do know this:

A CEO has NOTHING to do with a consumer’s experience and relationship with her car.

OK…obviously, the CEO should play a role in setting the tone and strategic direction of the organization but to your average consumer, the CEO is likely of little significance. Take a look at the video spots below from each of the big 3 and tell me if the CEO contributed to the compellingness of the brand and/or value proposition?

Starting with the last one, I don’t think that Ed Whitacre was believable or genuine in the slightest. He’s not an actor or an icon. He’s a guy in a suit and he acted like on. There was not an ounce of me that believed he cared about my driving experience. Not an ounce of me believed he knew what American’s value when it comes to an automobile. And that’s in part because I don’t know what GM stands for, a midst all their brands, whats the value proposition of the GM umbrella? And where does Mr. Whitacre communication fit into that?

Bill Ford at least carries the name, so on some level I believe he’s passionate about cars, particularly the mustang featured in the spot. Still, it didn’t do a whole lot to secure his job. Worse still, his replacement lasted only 4 months. And we all know what happened to Chysler. I will say from an entertainment standpoint, I liked the dr. Z spots…but I think again Chrysler struggled with an identity problem…no one really bought the whole German inspired nonsense. I mean, has anyone SEEN the PT cruiser? I think its safe to say that nothing about that car says “German engineering”.

So at the end of the day, I don’t think making your CEO the public face to the consumer is ever a wise move unless they are truly iconic. And even then, I don’t see the value add. Afterall, we don’t see Jobs pitching for Apple, Gates for Microsoft or Laffley for P&G. The CEO should be behind the seens, developing their organizations…not pitching me their products over mass media.*

*Note the exception in the B2B space, where the CEO can be iconic by virtue of her position, where she is respected by other key business decision makers/influencers.


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